February 28, 2009

“The good news is that it’s not in the joint, the knee itself seems fine, no internal damage. It looks like you’ve strained the muscle, right here, where it attaches to the bone.” Peter pointed to the spot where the pain radiated, from just below the inside of my knee, up into my lower thigh which was swollen to twice the size of my other leg.

One day of scrambling up and down Dave’s roof, on and off ladders, on and off ropes, ripping off old shingles, slinging plywood; two days of sashaying across Anne’s floors, sanding and urethaning; and thirty minutes of a decidedly un-Fun Run on the Montpelier bike path had combined to hobble my left knee — only it wasn’t my knee, it was the muscle. “So it’s the tendon?” I asked, wanting to show that I knew what a tendon was. “Tendon, muscle…. it’s really one tissue. It just narrows down, gets thinner and tougher where it attaches to the bone. Rest. Anti-inflammatories. Stay off ladders. Ice.”

I couldn’t walk or sit comfortably but found that I could stand so I planted myself in front of my drawing board and began working on a bookshelf design that I have been pondering and sketching for years. It is one continuous shelf that snakes back and forth as it climbs up from the ground. It’s a great idea, but actually figuring out how to keep it from collapsing under its own weight (never mind that of the books) has always been the detail that stumped me.

The odd angles of those snaking joints ARE the design, making it both artistic and functional. They are structural and supporting yet each joint itself needs to be supported. It is those secondary supports that have tripped me. How to make them disappear into the design, or emerge out of the desgn, do their work and look, be integral. Gravity. Compression. Function. Art..

I am thinking about art, because of my shelf and my knee and because the root of art means to join, to place things together. Arthritis shares the same root, disease of the joints. An artist presumably is good at arranging and grouping things, connecting them. Composition. Juxtaposition. Look at the Sculpt-Cycle pieces spread out over Montpelier: Janet Van Fleet’s Battering Ram, a fat beam of lumber bristling with nails joined to bicycle rims and a handlebar; Eric Keck’s Celtic Goose made of frames and forks flying next to the Court House; the hyper-neat perfectly spaced silver cube of bike parts and words wired together by Jim Walsh on the Statehouse lawn. All different ways of joining different things, and, somewhere in there (one might hope) ideas. Joyce’s and Smith’s Squashed Bikes: the ideas of trash, recycling, transportation; the ideas of art and anti-art, all jammed together without particular skill by a metal compactor and set out on a pedestal. A rusting tangle of ideas or a bit of unartful arthritic whimsy? Is the question worth asking? Is that the juxtaposition?

And while we’re juxtaposing consider the arthropods, the critters with “jointed feet,” the insects, spiders, crustaceans, known in Latin circles as the Articulata, the Articulated Ones. Or think of the Articulate, those who know the weight and power of words and can join them, end to end, to convey their messages with clarity or poignance, or even outrage. And then there are the ever popular Articles of Confederation, that bulleted list of principled agreements that united the Thirteen Colonies into the Jointed States of America, aka the U.S.A.. Article, as in article of faith, or an article in a newspaper, a piece of the whole, discrete, defined, yet connected.

I think about these things as I consider joinery, that essential woodworking skill, and my zig-zagging shelf, and design, and gravity, and how I am going to make fast and support all its connections and joints. I think how important it is that the shelf not collapse, and how important it is that I not collapse, at least not for a while, and that I learn to care for my joints, my knees, my muscles and tendons (whether or not they are the same thing….) and that I finally find a way to stay off that frickin’ ladder.


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